Michael Pittman Jr. has the former NFL player bloodline going for him, but why else should we believe this young man will succeed in the NFL? Is he just another “good, but not great” receiver from USC? Does it matter that it took him forever to break out for an entire season? Let’s find out.
From the Beginning
For some of you (the old ones), you’re likely already familiar with Pittman’s dad. For those that aren’t, Pittman played 11 NFL seasons at running back, posting five consecutive seasons with at least 1,100 yards from scrimmage from 2000 to 2004. So needless to say, when it came to be known that Michael Pittman Jr. started rising through the recruiting ranks, the hype began to build immediately.
By the time Pittman Jr. entered college he had nearly the entire PAC-12 seeking his receiving abilities. And even though everyone thought he would go to Oregon he instead chose the crowded receiver room at USC. At the time that meant competing with the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Deontay Burnett, Darreus Rogers, and Steven Mitchell. Not all those guys panned out to become pros, but it was a top three or four group in college football at the time.
Pittman Jr. was immediately behind the eight ball trying to climb his way up a stacked depth chart to find early relevance.
College Production Story
Unless you’re new here you’re already well aware that we like to see wide receivers break out at an early age. However, as you can see, Pittman Jr. clearly failed to do that in a major way. But at the same time, like already mentioned, given the USC receiver depth the context there makes some sense. And not only that, but 2016 (Pittman’s first year) was a strange offensive season for USC.
The Trojans kicked off the year with Max Browne failing hard at quarterback, which killed everyone’s productivity. They got absolutely embarrassed by Alabama in week one, 52-6. Then they went on to drop two of their next three to start the year 1-3 (quite odd for USC). The coaches tried a few different rotations with the more veteran receivers, but even JuJu Smith-Schuster struggled early on. Then of course the Trojans switched to Sam Darnold and the offense was saved. But Pittman Jr. was still M.I.A. for another almost full year.
Well, long story short, an ankle injury derailed what should have been a fast start to his sophomore campaign. Pittman Jr. leaped over the top of his own teammate in practice, but came down and twisted his ankle pretty severely. It was so bad that he couldn’t play even near 100% until October of that season. By then the new USC stud WR, Tyler Vaughns had taken what should have been Pittman’s starting spot. It took Pittman some time to get healthy and prove himself, but by December he worked his way into starting snaps, finishing the year with 10 catches and 215 yards in the last two games against Stanford and Ohio State.
Pittman’s junior and senior seasons were quite a different story though. He had finally established his dominance as a lead option thanks to his ability to simply stay healthy. As a junior Pittman showed he could be a deep threat and YAC monster. As a senior he showed development in his route tree and knack to be a target vacuum racking up 101 receptions in just 13 games! But what could those final and peak season numbers mean for his NFL future? Let’s take a look at the WR regression tree.
Pittman’s career market share comes in just under 29%, so he falls in line with most college receivers (78% of them). His final season receiving yards total easily eclipsed 933 yards, so he doesn’t fall in the “doomed” category for receivers. But, given he logged more than 4.8 receptions per game and will be 23 by the end of his first NFL season things don’t look great after all. Pittman falls into a tier of receivers that hit around 6% of the time. *Nervous Face Emoji*
This does not mean that Pittman can’t hit. It simply means that Pittman’s profile is truly strange for a receiver prospect that many believe could still very well “hit” at the next level. And given the context that led to his slow start we may want to give him the benefit of the doubt from a production standpoint (at least slightly).
But if he does hit, what would that look like? Let’s check out some pro comps for him.
Comps and Draft Prospects
|100||Michael Pittman Jr.||USC||WR||2016||2019||70||0.25||0.27||0.29||0.85|
|98||Markus Wheaton||Oregon State||WR||2009||2012||79||0.24||0.20||0.31||0.85|
|94||Devin Smith||Ohio State||WR||2011||2014||37||0.26||0.28||0.27||0.86|
|90||Justin Hardy||East Carolina||WR||2011||2014||107||0.30||0.31||0.31||0.77|
|88||DaeSean Hamilton||Penn State||WR||2014||2017||113||0.22||0.20||0.23||0.69|
|84||Brian Robiskie||Ohio State||WR||2005||2008||36||0.25||0.33||0.27||0.62|
At first glance, the results are pretty brutal. The only good news may be that Pittman will likely profile as a superior athlete than any of the players listed above. If Pittman can show nice size-adjusted speed and burst he may earn even greater draft capital. And that’s exactly what he’ll need to realistically have any shot at early NFL snaps.
If by some miracle Pittman is drafted early Round 2 his comps get a little better. Courtland Sutton, Austin Pettis, and Brandon LaFell come into the picture as possible production/capital comps. But at this point that capital outcome seems unlikely.
Pittman does have some context that excuses his late breakout and capped production metrics. He has incredible size, body control at catch point, and solid play strength. But is that enough to warrant excitement about his NFL chances? The numbers say no. We’ll see if the NFL combine and Draft says yes.